Somerset COVID-19 – cases rise but….

This morning we were greeted with a renewed sense of urgency from Government over the COVID-19 outbreak. So the publication of new results for the Somerset County Council area just now is bound to be of interest. But first our regular health warning on what the figures are and what they do and do not cover.

Unlike NHS data this includes care homes and incidences of COVID 19 “at home”. The data is prepared to 8 September for cases (although different dates are used for some of the other figures). The reason for this delay is to keep the numbers accurate. The daily totals published by the NHS are subject to constant revision, as not unreasonably, the data is constantly being updated to improve accuracy. It is also worth noting that the SCC area does not include North Somerset (so Weston hospital) or BANES (So the RUH in Bath) both of which are separate administrative areas.

Over the past few weeks we have reported a steady rise of weekly cases (these are lab confirmed cases). These have been running at approximately 20 per week. For the week to 8 September, Somerset had 37 new cases. So you could look at this in simple terms as nearly doubling the weekly number.

A lot – or not

However we have to also consider the prevalence of cases in Somerset as a whole. the total confirmed caseload in Somerset is 1,427. That is out of a population of 560,000. So that suggests an incidence of COVID-19 of 2,548 cases per million population. The UK as a whole has had 353,350 confirmed cases out of a population of 66.5 million. So that works out as 5,042 per million.

It is easy to get over excited about a relatively small increase in numbers (ie 37 new cases). When the total number of infections is small, it is much easier to see a doubling of cases. In extremis, 1 case a week to 3 cases a week could be reported accurately as trebling the number. But in pandemic terms an increase of 2 cases is not very meaningful.

Moving on to look at deaths, the death rate continues to be very low in Somerset. Just one case was reported in the latest figures (these are to 28 August) and that was a hospital death. As we reported yesterday, a new system to identify those at risk early, seems to have significantly reduced both outbreaks and deaths in Somerset care homes.

School outbreak

However with schools back and public health delivered county by county there are new threats. Yesterday a case was reported in a Year 13 student at Gryphon school in Sherborne. Advice has been given by the school in colsultation with Dorset Public Health. The outbreak was widely reported in Dorset. However a significant number of pupils come from the Yeovil area. Whilst I am sure Somerset County Council will give similar advice, it shows the importance of co-ordination in public health between neighbours.

What the figures do show is a need to continue to be cautious. New Government guidelines making social gatherings of more than 6 people illegal from Monday, reinforce the message. The R number for Somerset has been quoted as in a range of 0.8 to 1.1 for several weeks. Whilst a range that large (0.8 not much to worry about – 1.1 serious risk of rapidly growing numbers of new cases) is not helpful, it shows a wariness. It remains important to follow government advice, social distancing rules and be cautious.

As ever we have given you the full data set to read so you can draw your own conclusions

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